Queens, NY – As alarm over the novel coronavirus outbreak continues, beleaguered airport workers rallied on Wednesday in Richmond Hill for the Healthy Terminals Act [HTA].
Introduced months ahead of the epidemic in May 2019, the HTA legislation would give airport workers who are constantly on the frontlines during major pandemics quality-affordable healthcare, according to a spokeswoman for co-sponsor State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi (D-Bronx, Westchester).
“We have an urgent responsibility to keep these workers healthy while they continue to protect and serve the public,” said Biaggi. “As we speak New York is experiencing a public health outbreak, and our workers cannot wait – we must pass the Healthy Terminals Act now.”
The HTA seeks to provide workers with a $4.54 per hour benefit supplement to purchase healthcare.
Some of the airport workers who work in close proximity to travelers include wheelchair attendants, security, cleaners and passenger service representatives, according to 32BJ SEIU, he largest property service workers union in the country.
Following the HTA rally, the New York Committee for Occupational Health and Safety [NYCOSH], a nonprofit membership organization with more than 40 years of experience providing training, educated airport workers on how best to protect themselves from the virus also known as COVID-19.
“Our airport workers are not only a part of the fabric of our communities, they have vital responsibilities at our critical infrastructure at the John F. Kennedy International Airport and LaGuardia Airport,” said Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Far Rockaway, Laurelton). “We undermine every resource we pour into upgrading our airports when we neglect to care for our human capital.”
Passenger service representative Vladimir Clairjeune, a 10-year veteran at JFK Airport, agreed.
“Corona is not the only disease we have to worry about,” said Clairjeune. “The CDC says that if you show symptoms you should go to the doctor, but [while] there are hundreds of us who work who have some health insurance, [there are] thousands of other workers without health insurance.”
Several of Clairjeune’s co-workers have to choose between paying premiums or paying their bills and purchasing medication.
“My concern is not just for myself, but my family and my co-workers’ family,” added Clairjeune. “Diseases spread and they do not encapsulate in any one particular area. There are a lot of things transmitted from person-to-person contact.”
As a passenger representative Clairjeune handles passports, greets customers by shaking hands, and sometimes helps mothers who have their hands full by pushing strollers.
Jordany Bueno Vasquez, a wheelchair attendant at LaGuardia Airport, has been taking the advice of the CDC by washing his hands, but because of the high healthcare premiums he does not have health insurance.
He has also fought alongside other workers with 32BJ SEIU to get up to $19 hour raise, but once it kicks in between September 2020 to 2023, many workers getting insurance from the city would be considered to be making too much money to continue to qualify for the affordable option.
“My co-workers might lose their health insurance if their wages go up,” said Vasquez. “The HTA will help with us getting quality health insurance.”
Vasquez, a 9-year veteran at the airport, has epilepsy, pays his medical bills out of pocket, and doesn’t have health insurance to fall back on.
He pays $125 for a doctor’s visit with a neurologist, which he has to see every three months. Epilepsy medication costs another $50/month. The drug’s side effects include a lack of calcium, so Vasquez also requires calcium supplements to protect his bones.
If the HTA passes, Vasquez says he won’t have to put off dermatology, dental and vision checks.
The HTA still needs to get through the Senate’s Labor Committee, receive majority support in both the State Senate and State Assembly, and be signed by Governor Cuomo, before it becomes a reality.
According to Biaggi’s spokeswoman, there are now 31 senators who support the bill. The HTA also has a co-sponsor in the lower chamber courtesy of State Assembly Member Alicia Hyndman (D-Springfield Gardens),
As city airports receive approximately $17 billion in investments, Clairjeune wants the city politicians to remember that workers are important to invest in. too.
“We see all these upgrades, these beautiful lounges and this new hotel designed for passengers to enjoy, but caring for the workers should be paramount,” Clairjeune added. “I take great pride in doing my job and so do the other men and women. We play a vital role in ensuring that passengers make it safely to their destination.”